Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft suffered damage at the International Space Station (ISS) in December when a leak caused it to lose a large amount of coolant.
Following an investigation, NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, decided to send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft on February 20.
But the unusual incident left the ISS operators with a serious concern: How would it evacuate the three Soyuz astronauts — Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and NASA’s Francisco Rubio — in the event of an emergency?
It’s now been decided that if there’s a call to evacuate the ISS before the replacement Soyuz arrives, Rubio will enter SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which brought the four Crew-5 astronauts to the ISS in October, while Prokopyev and Petelin will enter the damaged Soyuz spacecraft.
That might sound like a raw deal for the Russians, but analysis by ISS operators suggests the capsule would be safe to bring the pair home in the unlikely event of an ISS emergency occurring in the coming weeks.
The concern about the Soyuz capsule is that without its coolant, the interior could heat up to a dangerous level as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.
But ISS program manager Joel Montalbano said at a recent press conference that taking Rubio out of the Soyuz would remove one-third of the human heat load, easing the stress on the spacecraft.
But NASA had to also find out if the Crew Dragon would be able to carry one more person than it was designed for. Following a review of the spacecraft’s systems, the vehicle was indeed declared safe to carry Rubio.
If the Dragon is needed for an emergency evacuation, the American astronaut will sit on a seat liner in a spot usually reserved for cargo, and cargo straps will be used to secure him to the floor.
Results of an initial investigation suggest the Soyuz leak was caused by a micrometeoroid striking the capsule at high speed. Stich said SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon with extra shielding to combat such strikes, with future builds possibly gaining even more protection.
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